Abe’s hand tenderly traveled the length of her arm from her shoulder to the bend in her elbow. “Maybe. But I’m pretty sure it’s against the law to keep a kid in a box.”

She lightly elbowed him.

He chuckled. “I imagine it’s close. Hearing the baby cry. Getting up with it. Wondering what you’re gonna do with the little bugger during the day when you can’t take it to work.”

“Can George go with you tomorrow? Learn to be a ranch dog?”

“Weren’t you the one who brought it home so you could love it and hug it and squeeze it and feed it and call it George?”

She elbowed him again. “Yes, but I can’t take a puppy to work with me.”

“I can’t either. Not when he’s so small. We’ll have to crate him in the kitchen.”

“I hope he’s a fast learner.”

“I’m a fast learner too. Now I know why you named him George. Because of that Christmas movie you loved so much.”

They’d only spent three Christmases together, so she was happy he’d remembered watching It’s A Wonderful Life with her. “Busted. With the snowy weather, and it being so close to Christmas, the name just seemed to fit.”

“Mmm.” He kissed her shoulder. “George. The dog who saved my Christmas present.”

“What makes you say that?”

“ ’Cause now I’m hoping you’ll think the collar I got you . . . was actually for the dog.”

She laughed softly. “I’m glad we’re spending Christmas together, Abe.”

“Me too.”

Chapter Thirty

New Year’s Eve was overrated.

Especially when Renner had to pretend to ignore the only person he wanted to be with. The heat and the noise level at Hank and Lainie’s first New Year’s bash increased, escalating his need to escape.

Renner hadn’t seen Tierney for at least ten minutes and he knew where to find her. He cut through the crowd, snagged his coat from the pile in the entryway and snuck out the front door.

Bingo. She leaned against the porch railing. She’d dressed warmly enough for the frigid night: fuzzy tasseled hat, long wool coat, a thick scarf looped around her neck, puffy mittens covering her hands. She looked damn cute. “Hey.”

“Hey yourself.”

“Had enough of wall-to-wall people?”

“It’s a fun party and all, but I needed a minute to clear my head. Then I came out here and it’s been hard to pull myself away.”

One of his favorite things about Tierney was the city girl had become enamored with this rugged no-man’s-land called Wyoming. He secretly loved catching her gazing out their office window. Or sitting on the log behind her cabin. Or sometimes in the mornings she’d wander halfway down the hill to the barns and corral. In those moments when she quietly marveled at nature, she defined serenity. It was a far cry from the uptight Tierney who’d arrived in Muddy Gap four short months ago.

“The view is breathtaking, isn’t it?” she murmured.

Renner set his hand on the rail next to hers and drank in the vista. Rocky hills and veiled valleys morphed into snow-capped mountains in the distance. Wispy clouds shuttled by, but didn’t mar the majestic black sky. The landscape wasn’t all that spectacular compared to the panorama from the rooftop of the barn at the Split Rock. “It’s all right, I suppose. I know someplace better.”

And just as he expected, she challenged, “Prove it.”

“Gladly. But first I’ve gotta know . . . You afraid of heights?”

Tierney rolled her eyes. “No.”

“So let’s go.”

“Now? Renner. It would be rude not to say thank you to Hank and Lainie for inviting us to their party.”

“The booze is flowing. No one will miss us.” When she still wasn’t convinced, he leaned close enough to get a whiff of her lemon lip balm. “Is it so wrong that I wanna be alone with you on New Year’s Eve? I’d like to kiss you at midnight and not give a damn about who’s watching.”

Those beautiful coffee-colored eyes softened. “Did you practice that line?”

“Nope. Spur of the moment. But it’s a damn good one, don’t you think?”

“It’s all right, I suppose.”

“Smarty.” He couldn’t resist giving her a smacking kiss on the mouth. “Meet me at the barn in about thirty minutes. Dress warm. Wear sensible shoes.”

Tierney parted her lips to protest; he kissed her again. “As much as I love them sexy-assed, do me baby high heels you prefer, tonight you need to wear shoes with nonskid soles.”

Renner waited until Tierney pulled away in her vehicle before he bounded down the steps to his truck.

Half an hour later, as he situated the ladder beneath the hayloft door, he began to wonder if this was a stupid idea. He’d wanted to give her a different way to ring in the New Year. Alone. Just the two of them. The way it oughta be. Hopefully the way it’d play out for years to come.

The main door squeaked and she yelled, “Renner? You in here?”

“Yeah. Come on up to the hayloft.”

“You offering to give me a roll in the hay?”

“Maybe after. If you’re a good girl.”

“But you like me so much better when I’m bad,” she purred.

That damn throaty growl always made him hard. “I’m hoping this doesn’t freak you out.”

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